It’s an axiom that entrepreneurs embark in business to change the world.
But as motivational speaker Simon Sinek notes, while every leader knows what their business does—and a few even know how they do it—“very few know why they do what they do”.
“And by ‘Why’, I don’t mean a profit; that’s always a result,” Sinek says in a celebrated TEDx talk viewed more than 6.55 million times.
“What’s your purpose, your cause, your belief? Why does your organisation exist? Why should anyone care?”
Inspired leaders and their organisations, irrespective of their size or sector, communicate their ‘Why’ before the ‘How’ or ‘What’ or what Sinek calls the ‘Golden Circle’.
Because if a leader doesn’t know why they do what they do, how can they create a conscious culture that supports their business, its employees, customers, partners and ultimately the world around them?
Shane Muller found his ‘Why’ 20 years ago, and it wasn’t only to capitalise on the growing trend to outsourcing and remote ICT services by founding one of Australia’s first providers of cloud services. Since establishing OBT in the late ’90s, Muller has contributed a fixed share of its revenue to causes that resonate with his belief that resilient relationships are the bedrock of healthy and successful societies that create opportunity for all.
“There’s no direct connection between the work OBT does and the causes we support,” Muller says. “The connection is from myself, and having these deep, longing desires to make an impact that will outlast the business, the team, and myself.”
The conscious and learning organisation
In looking outside OBT for cultural inspiration, Muller adheres to Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson’s doctrine of ‘put staff first, customers second and shareholders third’, which manifests in how OBT develops its people. Muller expects employees to exhibit a learning mindset that embraces opportunities for professional and personal growth.
And while he hires for and develops an employee’s technical potential, it’s on the emotional or interpersonal side where training is focused.
“We grow our people’s skills because we want them to become very well versed and certified,” Muller says.
“But we exert 80 percent of our expectation, intent, effort, and hope to grow the person on the ‘soft side’ training them how to talk, negotiate, dress, have eye contact, and dialogue — at home, with children, beyond the walls of work. So they have traits that are not just technical with a ‘use by date’ but that will last the rest of their life.”
In a fast-moving industry often populated by hotshots with impressive skills and who crave variety and responsibility, encouraging employees to slow down is a challenge. Muller hands employees graduated levels of responsibility so they build trust and credibility with their peers and clients.
And at other times, when an employee is struggling with a challenge, he may “buddy up” or bring in outside help to push them over a hump, he says.
“We watch to see how teachable the person is to assess how much we will invest in them. A teachable person not only hears what you say, they actually listen. So they take those insights and change their behaviour.”
Enjoy the journey because the destination is a long ride
In a world punctuated by quarterly results, annual reports and five-year plans, it’s easy to believe these arbitrary intervals are the business’s heartbeat.
But each business—like every person or any thing—continues until it doesn’t. And while each business leader will have a destination in mind that fuels an organisation’s efforts and sharpens its vision, Muller believes that a person’s and an organisation’s character evolves on the journey.
“That doesn't diminish how we strive for objectives like targets, year-end goals and so on. But we've tried not to obsess about the destination and instead build to a place where each person enjoys the journey, because they need to show up and enjoy those highs and the lows.
“[We] go through each day to make an impact in the world; build an organisation where people from varying backgrounds collectively achieve amazing things” beyond clients’ expectations. “And ensure we make an impact that will outlive what we're doing here and now.”
Shane’s start-up tips for a conscious corporate culture
An organisation’s culture is its ‘personality’ — how its people treat each other, customers and the communities they serve. Healthy cultures seldom happen by accident and are challenged by disruptive events such as rapid growth, mergers and takeovers, or the departure of founders and key leaders. Here’s Shane Muller’s principles for OBT’s conscious culture:
- Spread the joy of the journey (and don’t sweat the destination)
- Have purpose outside the four walls of your business
- Love learning, love growing others and love growing your business
- Reward work that makes an impact, while helping those in need
- Mentor and seek to be mentored
- Put your employees first and your customers and shareholders will you love you (OK, this is Sir Richard Branson’s idea but a healthy culture adopts others’ good ideas)
- Embrace diversity and permit everyone to contribute in their own way
- Admit mistakes when they happen and seek to fix them without excuses
- Build trust in the small things before seeking out bigger challenges
- Display ambition but demonstrate patience
- Believe in others as you would like others to believe in you
- Set out to touch the world in ways that will live on after you are gone
- Collect, value, nurture and retain relationships with people in your life
- Find purpose beyond the four walls and vision of your job or your business.